What is it Spider-Man says? With great power comes great responsibility -- or something on that exalted order, and something the Democrats will have to ponder in deciding how to talk about President Bush's plan for a military "surge" in Iraq.
They're talking, to be sure. How much pondering lies behind the talk is not easy to appraise. New House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, for instance, told "Face the Nation" that "the burden is on the president to justify any additional resources for a mission."
To paraphrase a recent Democratic president, it depends on the meaning of "justify." Justify to whom? Congress? The nation? What would justification look like? Who'd sign off on it?
See, it's the power thing. When somebody has it, all you have to do, in the interest of getting it yourself, is throw bricks and jibes and taunts. All you say is, I'd do it better. It's what Madam Speaker is saying: her word against the president's and, for that matter, against that of a senior Republican well-seasoned in military affairs, John McCain. Of the stakes involved in getting Iraq right, McCain said over the weekend: "Even greater than the costs incurred thus far and in the future are the catastrophic consequences that would ensue from our failure in Iraq." Failure meaning scads of people get killed because we walked away from an unfinished job.
That's what the Democrats want? I don't see it, and I have a feeling that Madam Speaker -- for all her bumptious rhetoric -- doesn't want the Democrats tagged, as they were after the fall of Saigon, as the party that walked away from the screams and explosions. Which political strategy, I might add, didn't work very well on that previous occasion.
There is an aching temptation, one that most of us feel occasionally, to let people with no more decency than to blow each other up go on doing so, but without us around. We are back to the great political philosopher Spider-Man: With great power comes great responsibility. The powerful don't always get to do what they want to do -- not while drawn tightly in a web of moral obligations and commitments.
It might not, but so also it might, turn out that the Democrats' November victories were an important step on the way to American victory in Iraq. I know how dubious that sounds. Let me explain,
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